10th Annual Wild & Scenic Film Festival Coming to Tahoe

Lynn is putting on the Wild & Scenic Film Festival for the Sierra Nevada Alliance, benefiting the Sierra Nevada AmeriCorps Partnership, on March 26 at MontBleu in South Lake Tahoe (Click here for details)

Lynn and I went to the Nevada City Wild And Scenic Film Festival hosted by SYRCL that started it all (the South Lake Tahoe one in March is an “on tour” stop) back in January so she could scout films. The ones she picked were fantastic. I’ve been to previous years of this and other similar film events, and I was surprised by how great each film was, which means a really strong lineup this year for Tahoe. You can see Lynn’s post on her favorite films here.

So mark your calendar for March 26, and don’t miss out on this great event and these great films.

Black & White by Grey – Photos on Ansel Adams’ Birthday

Today is Ansel Adams’ birthday. To say I’ve been inspired by his photography would hardly be unique. But I can say my name was inspired by him too. My dad was a huge admirer of Adams and a great black and white film photographer himself, and he and my mom took me to Yosemite every year since I was born. My name came from my father’s obsession with Adams’ black and white, which as my dad said, is really shades of grey. He jokes the other option for my name was Zone 6. Anyway, as I’ve explored photography, I’ve played in monochrome, and here are a few from around the Sierra – nothing to pay honest tribute to Adams’ work, but my attempt none the less.

bw 1 bw 2 bw 3 bw 4 bw 6 bw 7 cathedral peak b&w donnerstorm B&W1 granite half dome b&w tahoe storm1 tahoeb&w1 tahoeb&w3 tenaya

Truckee’s biggest fire: 50 years later (Originally Published 2010)

TRUCKEE, Calif. — One of the region’s biggest wildfires started with a small, ordinary act, a lesson burned into local minds that still holds true today.

It was the middle of August, 1960, and construction workers were blazing the new Interstate 80 across Donner Summit.

Road crews burned slash and debris as they went, and a few embers settled into the furrows of cracked granite alongside the road. Then the winds picked up, carrying the sparks up the wooded slope north of the interstate, below what is now Tahoe Donner.

And on Aug. 20 — 50 years ago today — a water skier skimming along Donner Lake looked up and saw smoke. That was the beginning of the Donner Ridge fire, Truckee’s biggest wildland blaze, scorching almost 45,000 acres all the way to Nevada.

Norm Sayler, local historian and longtime local, happened to be on Donner Lake that day too.

“We were all on the beach when all of the sudden a fire started — and it went from nothing to huge in a matter of hours,” Sayler said.

Fire crews were spread thin across the state with wildfires already blazing in Southern California, then split in half locally by the Volcano fire just over the crest near Forresthill, said Joanne Roubique, the current ranger of the Truckee Ranger District.

The Sierra Sun and Truckee Republican — the newspaper’s name at the time — reported on Aug. 25 that 3,200 men fought the fire, including “Indian Firefighting Experts,” Navy, Marines, National Guard and prison inmates.

“It was the first time, or one of the first times, they used helicopters to move resources and to determine where the fire was going,” Roubique said.

With winds whipping up to 60 or 70 mph, there wasn’t much crews or equipment could do to stop the firestorm as it advanced east toward Verdi.

“I remember from Hobart Mills watching it come from the west. It was full-blown and full-grown. Trees were bursting into flames,” said Joe Straub, a Truckee Fire Protection District volunteer and board member for more than 40 years.

Straub wasn’t quite 16 at the time, so he couldn’t volunteer to fight it. He and his family were living in a boxcar home that Southern Pacific Railroad was ready to pull down the tracks if the fire changed direction.

“It was pretty hairy for a while. We didn’t know if it would go into Truckee or not,” he said.

Firefighters were able to stop the fire in one place — bulldozing a line to protect the historic Donner Party camp at Alder Creek, according to the Sierra Sun’s account.

On Aug. 25, the Sun reported: “Dana Cox, information officer for the forest service, said this morning that by noon the Donner Ridge holocaust would be 100 percent contained if present conditions continue.”

Roubique, reading a forest service report from the fire, said it was officially called under control Aug. 28.

“In the end it was about 20 miles long and five miles wide at its widest,” Roubique said.

The Sun reported a perimeter stretching 70 miles, with flames “within a few feet of several Donner Lake homes and businesses,” missing Truckee (what they called downtown Truckee at the time) by 2.5 miles, “skirting” Hobart Mills and destroying the buildings at the E. E. Prayen Ranch.

The fire left 27 injured — and thankfully, none dead.

The 44,800-acre blaze scorched $3.5 million in trees, according to the Sun, amounting to 150 million board-feet of lumber. The cost of the firefighting efforts was reported at $650,000.

“The Donner Ridge forest fire started here, high in California’s Sierras, on August 20 of 1960. Now this is all that remains of 39,000 acres of some of America’s finest timberland, recreation land and watershed,” said Stan Atkinson in 1960, a television reporter for Sacramento TV station KCRA at the time.

“This is what we call the black harvest.”

The Sierra Sun reported officials said it would take at least 50 years to replace the trees lost in the fire.

“We do have a forest back 50 years later, but not the same forest,” said Roubique, adding that the U.S. Forest Service searched far and wide for trees to replant. “Almost 45,000 acres is a lot to reforest, so they gathered seedlings from all over the country — from the Southeast, the Midwest — today we know that’s not a good idea.”

Those trees, used in warmer or wetter climates, didn’t thrive, and the reforesting took a few tries.

The Fiberboard Corporation, a timber company that owned what is now the Tahoe Donner subdivision, salvaged 17.7 million board-feet of logged timber in the fall and the following spring, then left the land to its own devices, said Bill Houdyschell, Tahoe Donner’s forester today, and the brush quickly took over.

The Tahoe Donner Association began actively managing the forests of the subdivision in 1990, thinning the brush, creating fuel breaks and planting trees.

“The trees have grown back very slowly,” Houdyschell said. “Mother Nature is doing a good job on the north slopes — it’s just the south slopes that aren’t doing as well.”

And it’s those south-facing slopes above Interstate 80 that have caught fire repeatedly since, sometimes in the same place as the Donner Ridge fire, he said — recently in 1994, 2003 and 2007.

“That’s an area of our concern, why we keep doing those projects on the southern boarder,” Houdyschell said. “The freeway is our Achilles’ heal with the prevailing winds running up the hill.”

But each time, the fires have slowed where Tahoe Donner’s foresters have worked, giving firefighters a place to stop the flames advancing toward the 6,000 lots that make up Tahoe Donner.

Still, if the conditions today were like Aug. 20, 1960, with 60 mph winds, Houdyschell said he doesn’t know what would happen.

“We’ve all chosen to live in a place where fire is part of the natural ecosystem. It’s a frightening part, but fire is going to happen again — it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when,” said Roubique. “So the question is: What can I do to protect my property and my neighborhood? We each have to do our part.”

She said defensible space and smart practices like clearing pine needles from the roof help minimize the impacts of a wildfire, and give firefighters a better chance at stopping it.

“As good as all the fire agencies are, there is more here than any of them can tackle without the community’s help,” Roubique said.

This story was originally published in the Sierra Sun in 2010.

Fat Biking at Royal Gorge, Sugar Bowl

When I first saw a fat bike – a mountain bike with extra-wide tires made for snow – I wasn’t sure what to make of them. But as the trend continued to grow, rather than fizzle out, and after talking to fat bikers out on the trails around Tahoe – on snow and off – I became curious. So when  Paco Lindsay, owner of Paco’s Bike & Ski, said they were holding a demo day at Sugar Bowl‘s Royal Gorge cross country ski area, Lynn and I jumped at the chance.

a01  a03

a02We were both surprised by how well the fat bikes rode; great grip on snow even when pedaling out of the saddle on climbs, the fat tires absorbing bumps like shocks when we hit rocky spots or plowed through creeks, all without feeling slow or lethargic. Really, it felt like mountain biking. More than one cross-country skier asked about them as they clicked out of their bindings to cross a creek or bare patch, watching as we pedaled on through. Fat biking might just be a sport immune to the fickleness of winter weather.

Climate Change in the Sierra (From the Archive)

monopanorama2

Many doomsday predictions of climate change focus on rising oceans, flooding coastlines and submerged cities, but some scientists are watching the Sierra to gauge other significant impacts.

Looking into the future it isn’t hard for researchers to picture the many different Sierra ecosystems ” wrapped like bands around different elevations ” retreating rapidly upward, squeezing each other and eventually running out of elevation to climb.

As future temperatures rise, predictions are for snow to melt faster and streams to swell earlier, out of sync with the breading cycles of aquatic species like fish and frogs.

Dry summers would leave entire forests more susceptible to fire and pests than ever before.

And, many experts agree, the changes become amplified as they move up the food chain, throwing the Sierra Nevada’s entire ecosystem, meticulously established over millennia, out of balance in a matter of decades.

The bottom line, some scientists conclude, is the extinction of vulnerable mountain species and increased fire risk for the Sierra’s human inhabitants.

“Our concern is with the rapidity of change ” most species can evolve over time and the planet has always been in flux ” but it’s the rate of change, which is really unlike anything we’ve been able to study,” said Josh Viers, assistant research ecologist at UC Davis.

The Sierra Nevada has been characterized as the “canary in the coal mine,” according to the U.S. Forest Service, an early alarm for the deleterious effects of rising temperatures.

But all parts of the Sierra won’t be treated equal. Despite Truckee-Tahoe’s more northern latitude, the area will likely be hit harder than the taller mountains to the south.

“The area around Tahoe and Donner Summit, for example, would be more affected then Kings Canyon,” Viers said.

And so Tahoe National Forest has been picked as an open-air laboratory for climate change – a focal point in a global issue – with researchers from academic bodies, conservation groups and the U.S. Forest Service gleaning whatever they can learn from the surrounding woods.

“When I started I was a naysayer, ready to poke holes in global warming,” said Carol Kennedy, the watershed project manager for Tahoe National Forest. “I don’t poke holes anymore.”

Perhaps easiest to predict and already in progress in some cases is the steady retreat of vegetation away from rising low-elevation temperatures and towards ever-shrinking snow melt, said UC Davis’ Viers.

However, not all species and ecosystems will move at the same rate, he said.

“What has been documented at higher elevation is the leading edge is moving up much slower than the trailing edge, and species are feeling the squeeze,” Viers said. “In practice the ponderosa pine is pretty hard hit.”

Kennedy said ponderosa pines have already moved up to 500 meters up-slope.

The different speed at which trees climb could also mean different mixes of species in future Sierra forests, she said.

Subalpine regions ” places where snow traditionally sticks for too long to for anything bigger then brush and grasses to survive ” are already seeing conifer growth, said Scott Conway, vegetation management officer for the Tahoe National Forest’s Truckee Ranger District.

“Places where 20 or 30 years ago trees couldn’t become established are now seeing baby fir trees,” Conway said.

Dr. Chad Hanson, director of the John Muir Project who is also doing post-doctoral research at UC Davis, agreed that subalpine species in the region are a concern.

“They may not be affected as early as species lower down, but subalpine species can’t go much higher,” Hanson said.

But his No. 1 concern is the sugar pine, Hanson said.

“What I’m really worried about are some of the conifer species associated with the mid-to-upper elevations. As the climate warms they may recede up the slope as the lower elevation becomes inhospitable, and wildlife species will have to go up with them,” Hanson said.

Another study tracking forest elevation gain is a collaboration between the Forest Service, the Nature Conservancy, UC Berkeley, Stanford University and others, said Patrick Gonzalez, climate change scientist with the Nature Conservancy.

Their work along the North Fork of the Yuba River focuses on three forest systems at different elevations, he said.

“In the Downieville the climate is warming at seven times the global rate,” Gonzalez said. “We’re seeing signs of many of the species shifting upward.”

But trees may not move simply up-slope and to the north seeking cooler clime, said Mark Nechadom, the climate science policy director for the U.S. Forest Service.

Cheryl Yeh, presidential management fellow with the Forest Service, said while some tree species climb higher, others could drop into cooler valleys with their own microclimates.

The complexity of change in the forest may mean trouble for the animals that depend on them, Nechadom said, where some species may be able to move with the change, but others may go extinct.

“One species we are paying close attention to is the Pika,” Nechadom said. “It’s a very high-elevation species related to the rabbit whose habitat is drying and warming up.”

The Forest Service’s Kennedy said generalist species, like deer, will likely come through climate change, whereas specialists may not.

“Some predictions show 15 to 35 percent of the species in our ecosystem effectively extinct in the next 100 years,” Kennedy said.

Other species dependent on streams or other watery environments don’t always have the ability to relocate, Nechadom said.

While rising temperatures will directly affect many species, indirect affects through changing water availability may be even more drastic.

“Between 7,000 and 9,000 feet the rain/snow mix line will be most severely affected,” Josh Viers said.

This means the timing and flow of streams and river could change, possibly three to seven weeks earlier, he said.

“Everything from what’s in the streams ” frogs breeding to vegetation along the side of the streams ” a whole series of affects, will come from just the timing,” Viers said.

The breeding cycles of both the mountain red- and yellow-legged frogs of the Sierra may no longer match with stream flows he said.

Trout require cold water, no more than 20 to 21 degrees Celsius, meaning many streams could become too warm, Viers said. Flowering plants may bloom with high flows before pollinators like bees and mosquitoes emerge.

Aspen trees, already diminishing in the West, are at risk because of drying stream habitat, Nechadom said.

And moisture could be dropping on the order of 40 to 60 percent by the year 2100, Kennedy said.

That kind of change doesn’t just affect the most water-dependent species, but almost all species across the board, scientists said.

Climate change could also make forests even more susceptible to problems currently plaguing the Sierra.

IMG_0830

Federal forester Conway said warmer temperatures ” potentially an increase of 3 to 4 degrees Celsius in the winter, 4 to 7 degrees Celsius in the summer in the next 100 years ” will put significant strain on forests already struggling to survive fires, bark beetle infestations and other issues.

“One thing models are showing is we are likely to see more drought and therefore more fire,” said Mark Nechadom. “We’ll see more fire both in quantity and intensity.”

One or two extra months of summer means that Sierra species will not only go through a dormant period in the winter, but in the summer as well, leaving them open for bark beetle infestations, Carol Kennedy said.

And with 80 to 90 percent of trees in Truckee-Tahoe area forests susceptible to bark beetles, that could mean massive change, said Conway.

“That isn’t just out in the forest, but in peoples’ yards,” Conway said.

Many doomsday predictions of climate change focus on rising oceans, flooding coastlines and submerged cities, but some scientists are watching the Sierra to gauge other significant impacts.

Looking into the future it isn’t hard for researchers to picture the many different Sierra ecosystems ” wrapped like bands around different elevations ” retreating rapidly upward, squeezing each other and eventually running out of elevation to climb.

As future temperatures rise, predictions are for snow to melt faster and streams to swell earlier, out of sync with the breading cycles of aquatic species like fish and frogs.

Dry summers would leave entire forests more susceptible to fire and pests than ever before.

And, many experts agree, the changes become amplified as they move up the food chain, throwing the Sierra Nevada’s entire ecosystem, meticulously established over millennia, out of balance in a matter of decades.

The bottom line, some scientists conclude, is the extinction of vulnerable mountain species and increased fire risk for the Sierra’s human inhabitants.

“Our concern is with the rapidity of change ” most species can evolve over time and the planet has always been in flux ” but it’s the rate of change, which is really unlike anything we’ve been able to study,” said Josh Viers, assistant research ecologist at UC Davis.

The Sierra Nevada has been characterized as the “canary in the coal mine,” according to the U.S. Forest Service, an early alarm for the deleterious effects of rising temperatures.

But all parts of the Sierra won’t be treated equal. Despite Truckee-Tahoe’s more northern latitude, the area will likely be hit harder than the taller mountains to the south.

“The area around Tahoe and Donner Summit, for example, would be more affected then Kings Canyon,” Viers said.

And so Tahoe National Forest has been picked as an open-air laboratory for climate change ” a focal point in a global issue ” with researchers from academic bodies, conservation groups and the U.S. Forest Service gleaning whatever they can learn from the surrounding woods.

“When I started I was a naysayer, ready to poke holes in global warming,” said Carol Kennedy, the watershed project manager for Tahoe National Forest. “I don’t poke holes anymore.”

Perhaps easiest to predict and already in progress in some cases is the steady retreat of vegetation away from rising low-elevation temperatures and towards ever-shrinking snow melt, said UC Davis’ Viers.

However, not all species and ecosystems will move at the same rate, he said.

“What has been documented at higher elevation is the leading edge is moving up much slower than the trailing edge, and species are feeling the squeeze,” Viers said. “In practice the ponderosa pine is pretty hard hit.”

Kennedy said ponderosa pines have already moved up to 500 meters up-slope.

The different speed at which trees climb could also mean different mixes of species in future Sierra forests, she said.

Subalpine regions ” places where snow traditionally sticks for too long to for anything bigger then brush and grasses to survive ” are already seeing conifer growth, said Scott Conway, vegetation management officer for the Tahoe National Forest’s Truckee Ranger District.

“Places where 20 or 30 years ago trees couldn’t become established are now seeing baby fir trees,” Conway said.

Dr. Chad Hanson, director of the John Muir Project who is also doing post-doctoral research at UC Davis, agreed that subalpine species in the region are a concern.

“They may not be affected as early as species lower down, but subalpine species can’t go much higher,” Hanson said.

But his No. 1 concern is the sugar pine, Hanson said.

“What I’m really worried about are some of the conifer species associated with the mid-to-upper elevations. As the climate warms they may recede up the slope as the lower elevation becomes inhospitable, and wildlife species will have to go up with them,” Hanson said.

Another study tracking forest elevation gain is a collaboration between the Forest Service, the Nature Conservancy, UC Berkeley, Stanford University and others, said Patrick Gonzalez, climate change scientist with the Nature Conservancy.

Their work along the North Fork of the Yuba River focuses on three forest systems at different elevations, he said.

“In the Downieville the climate is warming at seven times the global rate,” Gonzalez said. “We’re seeing signs of many of the species shifting upward.”

But trees may not move simply up-slope and to the north seeking cooler clime, said Mark Nechadom, the climate science policy director for the U.S. Forest Service.

Cheryl Yeh, presidential management fellow with the Forest Service, said while some tree species climb higher, others could drop into cooler valleys with their own microclimates.

conness02

The complexity of change in the forest may mean trouble for the animals that depend on them, Nechadom said, where some species may be able to move with the change, but others may go extinct.

“One species we are paying close attention to is the Pika,” Nechadom said. “It’s a very high-elevation species related to the rabbit whose habitat is drying and warming up.”

The Forest Service’s Kennedy said generalist species, like deer, will likely come through climate change, whereas specialists may not.

“Some predictions show 15 to 35 percent of the species in our ecosystem effectively extinct in the next 100 years,” Kennedy said.

Other species dependent on streams or other watery environments don’t always have the ability to relocate, Nechadom said.

While rising temperatures will directly affect many species, indirect affects through changing water availability may be even more drastic.

“Between 7,000 and 9,000 feet the rain/snow mix line will be most severely affected,” Josh Viers said.

This means the timing and flow of streams and river could change, possibly three to seven weeks earlier, he said.

“Everything from what’s in the streams ” frogs breeding to vegetation along the side of the streams ” a whole series of affects, will come from just the timing,” Viers said.

The breeding cycles of both the mountain red- and yellow-legged frogs of the Sierra may no longer match with stream flows he said.

Trout require cold water, no more than 20 to 21 degrees Celsius, meaning many streams could become too warm, Viers said. Flowering plants may bloom with high flows before pollinators like bees and mosquitoes emerge.

Aspen trees, already diminishing in the West, are at risk because of drying stream habitat, Nechadom said.

And moisture could be dropping on the order of 40 to 60 percent by the year 2100, Kennedy said.

That kind of change doesn’t just affect the most water-dependent species, but almost all species across the board, scientists said.

Climate change could also make forests even more susceptible to problems currently plaguing the Sierra.

Federal forester Conway said warmer temperatures ” potentially an increase of 3 to 4 degrees Celsius in the winter, 4 to 7 degrees Celsius in the summer in the next 100 years ” will put significant strain on forests already struggling to survive fires, bark beetle infestations and other issues.

“One thing models are showing is we are likely to see more drought and therefore more fire,” said Mark Nechadom. “We’ll see more fire both in quantity and intensity.”

One or two extra months of summer means that Sierra species will not only go through a dormant period in the winter, but in the summer as well, leaving them open for bark beetle infestations, Carol Kennedy said.

And with 80 to 90 percent of trees in Truckee-Tahoe area forests susceptible to bark beetles, that could mean massive change, said Conway.

“That isn’t just out in the forest, but in peoples’ yards,” Conway said.

This story originally published in the Sierra Sun in 2008.

One foot in front of the other (From the Archives)

PCT-story-1

They trickle through Donner Summit each summer thin, weathered and determined. Some reach where Old Highway 40’s ribbon of asphalt breaks the 2,650-mile trail momentarily, stride across the road and continue walking, their faces and feet pointed toward Canada.

Others drop into the cafe at Donner Ski Ranch and gorge themselves on hamburgers, ice cream or soda that cant be carried on their long hike. Still others venture to Poohs Corner to sample the legendary hospitality of a Donner Lake resident who has welcomed long distance hikers into his home for years.

And then, by August, the last of the pack is gone, following a dusty thread of trail up the spine of the Sierra Nevada, hoping that before the snow flies they’ll plant their feet in Canada and, for the first time in five months, walk away from a trail that has become their home.

Roughly 87 days and 1,156 miles since setting off from the Mexican border, Dominique Ghijselinck and Valerie De Clerck, collectively known as the Belgian Waffles, sat down for a break on Donner Summit Thursday.

“We like-long distance hiking, and we met a guy from Oregon who said ‘you might consider the Pacific Crest Trail,'” Ghijselinck said. “Somehow it got stuck in our heads.”

pct-story-2

Ghijselinck and De Clerck are a married couple from Belgium – a factory worker and a grocery store clerk who dedicate their lives to travel.

“We are from Belgium and they say waffles are well known here,” Ghijselinck said, explaining their given trail name.

This year they’re taking on the Pacific Crest Trail, a 2,650-mile long foot path that extends from the Mexican border to Canada, wandering through deserts and over mountains in California, Oregon and Washington.

But their goal, like that of so many other hopeful thru-hikers, may prove unattainable as the extensive fires of Northern California threaten a 100-mile stretch of trail, De Clerck said.

“It’s kind of annoying, we had our minds set on doing every inch,” Ghijselinck said.

The smoke started becoming prevalent on the western rim of Lake Tahoe, they recalled.

“[Wednesday] ash was falling on us, like black leaves,” De Clerck said. “This morning it started prickling our eyes and throat, we can’t do 20 miles in this smoke.”

So sometime after Sierra City, Ghijselinck and De Clerck, along with all other thru-hikers, will have to get off the trail and find rides up to Chester, Calif., where they can continue their northward march.

The smoke hadn’t yet dampened their spirits, however, and both Ghijselincks and De Clercks faces light up as they recounted sightings of bears and rattlesnakes, fields of wildflowers, their fellow hikers and something called trail magic.

“People cache water and fruit in the desert sometimes,” De Clerck said.

Thats trail magic. And trail magic, performed by those known as trail angels, extends beyond supplies.

“Hikers Heaven was amazing,” De Clerck said. “They don’t know you and they let you into their home, let you use their car and do laundry.”

Hikers Heaven is the home of the Saufley family in Agua Dulce, Calif., who take in Pacific Crest Trail hikers every year.

Carefully applying chocolate spread to crackers as they spoke, the couple explained what life is like on the trail: “We break camp at 5:30, walk a couple miles and have breakfast in the sun, mostly power bars, we save our best food for dinner,” De Clerck said.

“Then every two to two and a half hours we have a break, and in the evening we have dinner; mostly crackers or bread with peanut butter, chocolate or couscous,” Ghijselinck said. “It’s still not enough calories, I lost six kilos (about 14 pounds) by Agua Dulce 450 miles since setting off from Mexico.

On the trail, De Clerck said the duo craves fresh fruit, vegetables and the occasional soft drink.

Facing the challenges of trail life together as a married couple hasn’t been hard, according to Ghijselinck and De Clerck, who have been together for 13 years.

“It’s normal to be together 24 hours a day. For us it is weird being separated at work all day,” De Clerck said.

But the trail hasn’t been all easy going, and both have experienced injuries along the way. The couple stopped for five days in the Tehachapi Mountains of Southern California when De Clerck injured her ankle, and stopped another week in Mammoth when Ghijselinck strained his knee, he said as he adjusted the wrap still around his right leg.

While the couple didn’t have to deal with much snow a traditional challenge in the southern Sierra, the dry spring and early heat created other problems, Ghijselinck said.

“The hardest part was the Antelope Valley in the middle of a heat wave, it was probably not the smartest move to tackle it in the middle of the day in 118-degree heat,” he said.

Mosquitoes have also been heavy in the Sierra, De Clerck said, scanning the air around her head for buzzing insects.

For now, the couple is enjoying their natural surroundings and taking the trail one day at a time.

“We’re enjoying every day, it doesn’t matter how far we come,” De Clerck said.

“We would pass everything by if we only thought about the end, that’s secondary,” Ghijselinck said. “But it would be great to reach Canada.”

Trail Angels

Gordon Smith, 67, is part of the Pacific Crest Trail community in his own way, not as a hiker, but as a trail angel. Living out of his beat-up white cargo van, Smith follows the thru-hikers north, meeting them at road crossings and offering food, drinks and rides into town.

Originally from Michigan, Smith said he hiked with his sister his whole life.

“In 1985 my sister, who was diabetic, went on dialysis so she couldn’t backpack anymore. She had a friend doing the PCT and we asked if we could tag along, meeting her at road crossings,” Smith said. “We did that for 15 years with different hikers on different trails. My sister passed away in November so this is my first year doing it by myself.”

Smith said he had surgery earlier in the year, and was put in a retirement home.

“People were there to die, 21 days was all I could take of that,” Smith said.

When asked what he does the rest of the year, Smith smiled and his eyes drifted off towards the horizon.

“There’s always hikers on the trail,” he said.

pct-story-3

Trail Names

Blisters, strange tan lines and layers of trail grime are not the only thing Pacific Crest Trail thru-hikers pick up while on the trail. Almost universally, hikers acquire a trail name, a moniker typically assigned by other hikers and bestowed based on some memorable experience or personality trait.

Paradox, a section hiker doing approximately 450 miles of the PCT this summer, is fairly unique amongst long-range hikers because she was able to choose her own trail name and make it stick.

“I had to fight for my name because supposedly you’re supposed to get named either the trail names you or something happens,” she said Thursday on Donner Summit. “I feel like a paradox. And life seems like a paradox, at least right now. So that’s where my name came from.”

Paradox started hiking this summer with a friend in Kennedy Meadows near the southern end of the High Sierra and went north to Kearsarge Pass in Kings Canyon National Park. She then got back on the trail by herself in South Lake Tahoe and is currently in the midst of hiking north to Sierra City.

Speaking of the ubiquitous trail names, Paradox continued: “They all have really cool names like Wildflower and Danger, that’s a couple, and my friends Dandy and Low Bridge, who I’m hoping will catch up soon. They’re all really cool people. Its an awesome community. I feel privileged to sneak in, even though I’m not a thru-hiker.”

Originally published in the Sierra Sun in 2008, Trail Names section written by Paul Raymore. Story awarded by the Nevada Press Association.

Video shot and edited by Paul Raymore:

Smith Rock, Oregon

I unzipped the upper edge of the frosted door of my camping tent, looking out across widely spaced juniper trees and low green ground cover permanently stunted by high desert life, and Smith Rock jutted up before me.

It was cold, too cold to emerge from the down pile Lynn and I had collected in the tent, so I burrowed back down and waited for the sun to do a little more work. We listened to geese honks echo off the canyon walls.

We were here, just north of Bend, Oregon, on an impromptu trip put together in part by a few site visits Lynn had to make for work and some unexpected free time I found on my hands. We had swung through Sacramento, spent a warm weekend in Point Reyes, stayed in I-5 side motels under a tarnished silver overcast in the northern Central Valley, and finally popped out in Bend, where we hit the ground, and the breweries, pedaling.

Bend and Tahoe seem to get a lot of cross pollination, and spending time there, it’s easy to see why they attract similar people. Often the same people in fact, as it seems we’re always hearing about someone moving to Bend from Tahoe or meeting someone from Bend, newly arrived in Truckee, Kings Beach or South Lake Tahoe.

We grew impatient, packed up my rope, quick draws, our climbing shoes and harnesses and worked our way down into the canyon. Putting up my first sport lead in some time, we didn’t just take turns climbing – but also standing out in the sun, trying to regain sensation in our fingers and toes.

Driving to bend each day from Smith Rock, we looked up at the volcanic Sisters and Mt. Bachelor, wishing for more snow, just as we did in Tahoe. We pedaled our mountain bikes on singletrack along the Deschutes River, ducked into local breweries (word to the wise, Crux Fermentation Project may be the best brewery in the world) and wandered around town.

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The trip ended too early, and we pointed the flying green toaster south as the first drops of a storm began to fall. So many things left to do – backcountry skiing in The Sisters, swimming in the rivers … even more breweries to sample. I have no doubt we’ll be back again soon.